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MARK WAHLBERG leads the cast as Chris Farraday in ?Contraband?, a white-knuckle action-thriller about a man trying to stay out of a world he worked hard to leave behind and the family he?ll do anything to protect.In the New Orleans-set crime thriller “Contraband” Mark Wahlberg plays Chris Farraday, a reformed-criminal-turned-loving-father forced to do the proverbial one last job when his brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) runs afoul of a local gangster (Giovanni Ribisi). To square the deal and pay-off Andy’s debt Chris agrees to go back into his old line of work—smuggling contraband goods. In this case he must illegally transport millions of dollars in counterfeit bills. But can he navigate around the police, ruthless drug lords and double crosses to keep Andy and his family safe?

It used to be that January was the dumping ground for movies that the studios thought nobody wanted to see. It is usually the domain of movies like “Bloodrayne” and bad Freddie Prinze Jr. rom coms, the kind of movies that hover around the 2% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

But “Contraband” is actually a pretty good thriller. It’s not brilliant, but it’s better than the spelling challenged “Thr3e” which was released this time a few years ago.

It succeeds mainly because Wahlberg can play both a believable badass and concerned family man, usually in the same scene. Maybe it’s art imitating life—Wahlberg has a checkered past, but is now a devout Catholic and family man—but that dichotomy makes “Contraband’s” unbelievable smuggling scheme easier to swallow. He’s fun to watch because he’s unpredictable, nuzzling the kids one minute, shoving the muzzle of gun in a bad guy’s face the next.

The rest of the movie isn’t as unpredictable, but it is entertaining. Fast paced—except for a brief mid-movie dip—it has some good action scenes, a suitably high body count and some over-the-top work from Giovanni Ribisi. Between the scene chewing here and his work in “The Rum Diary” Ribisi is proving himself to be the hungriest actor in Hollywood next to Nic Cage.

Less interesting are some of the supporting characters. Ben Foster, a fine but typecast actor, really needs to break away from the deadbeat kind of characters he’s been playing lately. More work like his heartrending performance in “The Messenger” please and less like paint-by-number creepy guys he plays in movies like “The Mechanic” and “Contraband.”

Even more disheartening is Kate Beckinsale who is relegated to the damsel in distress role. You’d think after kicking werewolf butt in four “Underworld” movies she’d be able to defend herself by now.

“Contraband” may not be edge of your seat stuff, but it is at least middle of your seat entertainment, and a whole lot better than the usual January fare.

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